Preventing Violence Against Women & Girls: Steubenville & Sport

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

A good number of sociological bloggers and progressive journalists have rightly been covering the recent Steubenville rape case in which a small group of high school football players sexually assaulted an adolescent girl and then boasted of their exploits across social media. The case has made international headlines not only because of the sexual assault and how blatantly the perpetrators bragged about their actions, but also because the perpetrators were high status male athletes in their local community. Consequently, many of their peers and even some adult mentors essentially covered up the crime. In this post, David Mayeda reviews some of this case’s sociological coverage and discusses how sporting culture plays into rape culture across the globe.

Yes Means Yes, No Means No Campaign Logo

In August 2012, at least two teenage male football players from Steubenville High School (Ohio, USA) sexually assaulted a girl from West Virginia who had come to Steubenville for a party. In a variety of disturbing ways, the males involved arrogantly bragged about the assault in online videos and on Twitter and Instagram. Sociological Images provides the alarming footage of a Steubenville High alumni who incessantly makes fun of the sexual assalut – a vivid example illustrating clear existence of what sociologists and others call a rape culture, where rape is celebrated, minimized, dismissed, covered up, and/or blame is assigned to the victim(s) (see also here and here).

Rape culture, however, frequently interacts with additional institutional forces. As noted previously, some dimensions of sporting culture also perpetuate a society’s rape culture. Dave Zirin at The Nation reminds us to question how male sporting culture operates in society. As young male athletes grow up receiving immense amounts of social privilege (e.g., incessantly being given unearned privileges and exonerated from personal mistakes), does the likelihood that they will engage in more extreme deviant actions correspondingly increase? Let me be clear, not all venerated male athletes unabashedly engage in harsh forms of deviance. In fact most probably don’t, but does the likelihood increase? Here’s howZirin posed the question:…

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The Many Statuses of Oscar Pistorius

In this post, Sarah Michele Ford examines how South African runner Oscar Pistorius can help us understand the sociological concept of status, including ascribed, achieved, and master statuses.

The headlines when we in the Western Hemisphere woke on Valentine’s Day were surprising.

“A Nation Reels as a Star Runner is Charged in Girlfriend’s Death”

“Olympian Oscar Pistorius charged with murder”

“‘Blade Runner’ Athlete Charged with Murder of Girlfriend”

Never fear, this isn’t going to be a blog post about yet another famous athlete gone bad. Instead, it’s about the adjectives used before his name. In these news articles, and many others, you find Oscar Pistorius described using terms like “Olympic and paralympic runner”, “BladeRunner”, and “Olympian”. Before Reeva Steenkamp’s death, and before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he was known as the double-amputee track star, the man who fought to prove that his carbon-fiber prosthetics didn’t give him an unfair advantage over runners relying on flesh-and-bone limbs. He was the guy who “lost” a race against a five-year-old girl wearing her own version of the legs he races on.

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No More Olympic Wrestling?: A Gendered Perspective

With the exception of 1900, wrestling has been in every modern Olympic Games since 1896. This past February, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to cut wrestling from the Olympics due to reported low attendance, poor television ratings, and general lack of popularity. Wrestling has two different styles at the Olympic level, Greco-Roman and freestyle. Both will be offered in in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. However come 2020, wrestling – a sport with historic Olympic roots – will likely be slashed from the Olympic platform. In this post David Mayeda explains why the IOC’s decision is a slap in the face to women’s and girls’ sport.

3-time Olympic Gold medallist Saori Yoshida

Wrestling is a sport that is dear to my heart. I didn’t go that far with it, stopping after high school to pursue a collegiate track and field journey. Still, I’ll brag a bit about my high school wrestling team. Typically one of the less popular American high school sports, our team had over 100 athletes when I was a freshman. Four years later as a senior, we still had around 80 wrestlers on the team, and we were damn good, winning league championships at every level all four years I was there.

But “wrestling” at my high school actually meant “boys wrestling.” The sport was normalized as a masculine, males-only sport. You didn’t have to qualify naming it as “boys wrestling,” because everyone automatically assumed girls didn’t participate as wrestlers, or that women didn’t lead as coaches. As sociologists, we are trained to question that which is presented as normal – to expose the social forces that construct our everyday lives.

Historically, sport was divided along very gendered lines, even more so than in present time. In early twentieth century United States, sports like boxing, basketball, and track and field were developed as male-only athletic terrain. In contrast, tennis, swimming, and golf, were sports where women could participate with a bit more flexibility. Society’s leaders of that time argued that the physical contact between athletes in sports like boxing and basketball, or the heavy pounding involved in track and field events (e.g., powerful running and jumping) jeopardized women’s reproductive organs. Thus, if women were allowed participation in sport at all, it would have to be in sports that supposedly preserved women’s ability to bear children. Notably, when women did partake in sports like basketball, they were stigmatized for acting in ways that violated “proper” womanhood….

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Lance Armstrong, PEDs, & “Controlling The Narrative”

Lance Armstrong finally came clean to Oprah this week about his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Armstrong admitted to playing the media, manipulating those close to him, and every other trick in the book to “control the narrative” surround his image. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how Armstrong’s “controlling the narrative” is an example of the social construction of reality and asks us to think about how we socially construct PEDs.

Lance Armstrong

Last week was a huge one for ESPN and the entire sports journalism complex. Oprah Winfrey announced that Lance Armstrong, the famous cyclist and seven time Tour De France champion, would finally admit to using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). This was a complete 180 for Armstrong who had vigorously defended himself against such accusations in the past; going so far as to sue his former friends for saying he doped. As Armstrong said himself to Winfrey he was a Bully who was trying to “control the narrative” surrounding his success and it’s integrity. Built on top of his house of lies, Armstrong personally made millions, became a world renowned philanthropist raising millions for cancer research through his LiveStrong charity, and a mega celebrity.

So who is the real Lance Armstrong? Is he the hero many of you reading this thought he was when you were rocking that yellow LiveStrong bracelet? Is he the villain that the sports media is painting him out to be now? Just who is he?

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Religion, Mourning Rituals, and Football

After tragedies like the mass shootings in Aurora, CO and at Sandy Hook elementary, you might think that a football stadium would be the last place you’d find a ritual to mourn the loss of life. However, it’s not uncommon at all. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath illuminates how sports are like religion by considering mourning rituals, which are present in both.

A social institution is an abstract concept used by sociologists to describe how certain things get done in a society. Social institutions include education, economy, politics, medicine, religion, and more.

Social institutions persist over time and perform various functions in society. Consider education. It seems to simply exist whether I am personally involved in it or not. My life is intertwined quite extensively with  education. I spent many years as a student, now work as a college instructor, and will soon be the parent of a kindergartner. Education serves several functions: passing on skills and knowledge to the next generation, creating jobs, and providing childcare.

Now let’s turn to religion as a social institution, which many of you will also be familiar with….

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College Sports & Female Objectification

Within numerous American universities, and likely the world, athletic departments and teams are a major force. In many cases, athletic teams bring universities millions of dollars. Stellar teams and individual athletes also bring universities high social status, serving as recruitment tools for future students – athletes and non-athletes alike. In addition to being an economic force and even behind four decades of institutionalized gender equity efforts, university athletic departments still emit heavy patriarchal values. In this post, David Mayeda examines the role objectification played in the recent recruiting of Andrew Wiggins – North America’s top high school male basketball player.

Florida State University’s (FSU) basketball team probably doesn’t stand much of a chance to contend for a national title this year, as indicated by their recent, lopsided loss to intra-state rival, Florida. Still, FSU appears to be in the running to sign North America’s top high school basketball prospect, Andrew Wiggins, largely because Wiggins’s father attended FSU. So if FSU doesn’t have an elite basketball team this year, how might groups within the university try to entice Wiggins?

As shown over at Yahoo!, female cheerleaders were holding signs for Wiggins that read, “FSU Has Hotter Girls” (presumably “hotter” than “girls” at Kentucky, the other university Wiggins is considering attending). Another group of FSU female students wore shirts that spelled out “We Want Wiggins!” Okay, so what? Isn’t this simply part of normal, fun university life? Well, yes, and that is precisely the problem. Here at SIF, we’ve discussed how sexual objectification infiltrates sports media in the past. In this case, we see a major American university perpetuating and trivializing the practice.

Recall, sexual objectification happens when people (most often women or girls) are rendered inanimate objects, void of emotion, feelings, intelligence, and valued only for their sexual accessibility to men. There are a number of strategies taken that can contribute to sexual objectification, including cases where “image[s] suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person” (see here for an excellent overview). In the case with FSU and its attempts to lure Wiggins, the female students holding signs represent an alleged widely available range of attractive FSU female students, their supposed primary characteristic being a willingness for Wiggins’s sexual indulgence….

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Declining Homophobia among Male Athletes

Historically, sport has been constructed as one of the last institutional bastions of hegemonic masculinity where homophobia stands as cultural norm. Such a perspective definitely pervades in numerous sporting contexts. But times are changing. A recent poll of professional athletes conducted by ESPN found that 61.5% and 92.3% of National Football League and National Hockey League players, respectively, support gay marriage. Some professional athletes are speaking up as individuals and collectively as teams to support marriage equality and admonish homophobia in general. In this article, David Mayeda, examines this critical cultural shift in sport.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has done his share to end homophobia in society.

If you have not read the phenomenal letter Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe, wrote to Maryland state delegate, Emmett C. Burns Jr. this past September, well, it is a must read. In the letter to delegate Burns, Kluwe supports Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in the movement to legalize gay marriage (i.e., marriage equality). Previously, delegate Burns had admonished Ayanbadejo for speaking out in support of gay marriage. Among numerous other gems, Kluwe writes to Burns:

“I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster…. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Again, the entire piece is a must read.

Kluwe’s and Ayanbadejo’s support for gay marriage reflects a broader and quite radical shift among male athletes – a declining trend in homophobia and being outspoken about it. Another very informative article by NPR notes that although no player in one of America’s four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) has come out while still a competitive athlete, support for gay rights in these sports is growing. Unfortunately, the fact that gay athletes who are male typically come out after their athletic careers have ended demonstrates the violent forms of social control they fear from athletic teammates, coaches, management, and the broader fan base. However earlier this month, professional boxer Orlando Cruz came out, an especially significant act given that Cruz is still boxing….

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Sociology at a Baseball Game Part 3: In-Groups and Out-Groups

Baseball may just be entertainment, but it can also teach us about sociology. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains what a baseball game can teach us about group membership.

Take a look at the above photo. What do you notice? I notice that most people are wearing red. A few are wearing white or blue. And a group in the middle is wearing yellow. Of course if you have been following along with the blog, you know that this is the third and final installment of “A Sociologist Goes to a Baseball Game” (read part 1 on race here and part 2 on class here) and that the above photo is from a St. Louis Cardinal’s game.

Fans attending sporting events often choose clothing in the colors that symbolize the team they are cheering for. In this case, red, white, and even blue symbolize the St. Louis Cardinals. The yellow symbolizes the visiting team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. People use symbols to communicate.

Symbols also can communicate group membership. Sociologists distinguish among different types of groups. In this case, we can see an example of in-groups and out-groups.

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Nationalism and the Olympics: Meddling with Medal Counts

The Olympic Games is one of the key markers for nationalism in contemporary society. Supposedly, if a country wins a large number of medals, this becomes an international indicator of the country’s overall superiority. The United States typically does very well in the summer Games, leading the way in both gold medals won and total medal count, though China has been a close second in the past two summer Games. Bear in mind, however, the United States has a population of about 310 million, and China 1.34 billion. In this post, David Mayeda breaks down which countries are the true Olympic standouts, considering each country’s population size, and questions the Games as an indicator of nationalism.

“U.S.A. U.S.A. U.S.A.” You could hear the national pride in the chants coming from the American fans. The United States won more medals at this summer’s olympic games than any other country with 104 total medals and 46 gold. The People’s Republic of China earned 88 medals with 38 gold. More than any other symbol of the Olympics, a nation’s medal count is supposed to be a measure of a nation’s global superiority. While it’s true that the Olympics are idealized as a two week international love, peace, and unity extravaganza, this sentiment is at best quaint.

If anything, the Olympics promote a fleeting nationalism within countries – a sense of solidarity, shared values, and cultural pride within a nation’s borders that revolve around athletes’ international success. For instance, all Americans can supposedly take pride in Michael Phelps’s ongoing success across three Olympic Games. It is apparently behind Phelps that all American citizens can rally together, assimilated as one, for about a week.

And in turn, as the USA wins the most gold’s and medals as a whole, Americans in general can assert their collective global superiority. With their Olympic dominance, we can safely assume that the United States must hold greater levels of technological advancement, athletic training innovation, work ethic, physical superiority, mental acumen, and well, just must be the best, period. Right?

Not so fast….

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The Olympic Transformation: Regeneration or Gentrification

With the thousands of hours and millions of words reported on the London 2012 Olympics, there was one story that was relatively ignored. As we watched awesome synchronized diving, Mitt Romney’s horse prance, runners blaze new records, most of us failed to realize one thing. The ground on which the rhythmic gymnasts ribbon-twirled once, not too many years ago, was a neighborhood with businesses, factories, nature lands, and residents. In this post, Bridget Welch discusses not the athletes, but the people who actually used to live where the Olympic Village now stands.

I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics with awe. As the pastoral English countryside was shoved away for the smoke stacks of the industrial revolution, I was amazed at the pageantry. The stage was set for the upcoming stories of transformation of young boys and girls into Olympic champions. From the achievements of Gabby Douglas to the announced retirement of Michael Phelps, we ate up these stories. But the real story of transformation went untold.

Think about it for a second. The Olympic Village was located in London – a city of over eight million people. If you’ve ever been to a big city, quick question: Can you think of a vacant area in these cities big enough to house the Olympics?


Same deal in London….

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